25 years ago, the Toronto International Film Festival launched a new section showcasing films from Africa and the African diaspora. This year, as we join the call from the streets for Black liberation, we celebrate the voices that Planet Africa amplified. One of the titles being shown as part of Planet Africa 25 is Charles Officer‘s newest film ‘Akilla’s Escape‘.

During what is supposed to be a simple, routine handoff, 40-year-old drug trader Akilla Brown (Saul Williams – ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream‘) is suddenly caught in the middle of a violent robbery. He just makes it out alive, with one of the thugs knocked out in the back of his van. Akilla soon finds out Sheppard (Thamela Mpumlwana – ‘In the Dark‘), the teenage Jamaican boy he captured, is part of the same crime organisation he was once part of as a child. Over the course of one night, he now has to confront his own past, help the boy survive, and retrieve the stolen goods for the criminals who hired him in the first place.

Officer (‘Invisible Essence: The Little Prince‘) easily makes the transition between 1995 New York and 2020 Toronto by editing these scenes in the slickest way. The subtle reggae playlist playing in the background, makes for a uniquely tense sitting, while we behold the struggles of Akilla and Sheppard who each try to break free from the constant toxic masculinity their superiors and relatives have pushed upon them over the years. Williams, who also worked on the soundtrack with Robert “3D” Del Naja, is a sensible protagonist, perfectly cast in the role by Officer. He doesn’t necessarily look as menacing as you’d expect from someone working in the Toronto underworld, but that’s just the strength of Williams and the character he portrays. Mpumlwana, who besides his role as Sheppard also plays a younger version of Akilla, is a big star in the making. The young vulnerability he exudes is just enough to make you gravitate towards him, and away from Williams’ captivating performance. Both are standouts in an already strong ensemble.

Akilla’s Escape is with its 90 minute runtime a solid crime drama that excels on both a technical and artistic level. The colour grading in each scene is vibrant when it has to be, without ever losing the grittiness necessary for a crime drama, that in a few scenes even reminded me of Steve McQueen’s 2018 star vehicle, ‘Widows‘. The framing in multiple shots is of a certain quality you rarely see in crime films, proving Officer means business.

Co-written with Wendy Motion Brathwaite, they create a story that’s both entertaining without glorifying the crime genre. Their insightful, profound commentary on gang culture and drug dealing that doesn’t know borders, takes a closer look at the effects of crime on Black lives and society.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Akilla’s Escape screens as part of TIFF20 on:
Sunday, September 13 at 9:15pm @ TIFF Bell Lightbox
Tuesday, September 15 at 6pm @ Bell Digital Cinema (online platform)
Tickets are available HERE

TIFF20 Review – ‘Akilla’s Escape’

Reviewed online (as part of Toronto International Film Festival), September 11, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 90 min.

PRODUCTION: A Canesugar Filmworks production. Producers: Jake Yanowski, Charles Officer. Executive producers: Martin Katz, Michael A. Levine, Karen Wookey.

CREW: Director: Charles Officer. Screenplay: Charles Officer, Wendy Motion Brathwaite. Editor: Andres Landau. Cinematography: Maya Bankovic. Music: Saul Williams, Robert “3D” Del Naja.

WITH: Saul Williams, Thamela Mpumlwana, Donisha Prendergast, Ronnie Rowe Jr., Olunike Adeliyi, Shomari Downer, Colm Feore, Bruce Ramsay, Vic Mensa.

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